Getting kids to relax and have fun in front of the camera can be the trickiest part of taking kids’ portraits. They’re often either full of energy and hard to pin down for a solid shot, or shy and unwilling to let loose enough to get a natural picture.
It’s that unpredictable component that makes kids portrait photography one of the most fun specialties – as well as frequently an overlooked talent among professional photographers. Getting a three-year-old to be playful yet attentive is a skill relished by prospective clients.
Kara Michelle Lamm of KiKi Creates is one such skilled child photographer. She also specializes in landscape, wedding, and lifestyle photography. Kara has a knack for coming up with fun ideas for kids portraits – she encourages playtime and can make even her youngest subjects feel comfortable during the shoot. Here Kara shares her tips for how you can do the same.
Show off previous portrait sessions before the shoot
Kara typically asks parents to show their kids her website and images before the shoot. “When they see other kids have fun in neat locations, they can excited,” she says.
She also makes a point to goof around with the kids right off the bat, so they feel comfortable. “Or else they will look at it as all work, no play, and the entire shoot feels like pulling teeth.”
In the image below, Kara says she let the two kids play around for a bit before taking any shots. “These two did not want to be pictured together – typical brother and sister feud was going on. It was also cold and windy, so we had the elements against us. But once I put down my camera for a second, and his sister saw him and I chasing the waves, she joined in. Then they were instantly holding hands, and it was perfect.”
Go with a kid-friendly location, even if it seems cliche
Acknowledge that a zoo, beach, or park is a cliche setting for kids portraits – then get over it. “I always choose a location that’s fun for kids, and provides great lighting and levels for me,” says Kara. She loves heading to the park or even the family’s own backyard if it’s conducive to taking photos.
“Kids can be themselves with providing me with simple posing,” she says. “Their backyard is the most natural and playful area for them, and also provides a sense of nostalgia for the images in the future.”
Use parents to your advantage
Many kids portrait photographers will tell you get the parents out of the picture – the focus is supposed to be on the child, after all. But in certain times you can use parents to get kids to start acting naturally. “When kids get to act as they usually would with their parents, you provide a likeness to their real personality that may otherwise be missed during the shoot,” notes Kara. “That ‘likeness’ is what the parents – and paying client – loves the most.”
In this photo, Kara says that the parents didn’t really want to be in the photos in order to maintain focus on their little boy. But he was very young, and so Kara asked them to tickle him to get more playfulness.
“Sometimes it’s great to have help,” she says. “They play with their son like this all the time, but never get to see it from this perspective.”
Keep a long and short lens handy
Long lenses are great for high-energy kids who tend to run around during the shoot. You can still catch the best moments even if you’re far away. For kids who love the camera, Kara isn’t afraid to get close and shoot with a wide aperture to capture clear, sharp eyes. She shoots with a Nikon D700, and always carries her 50mm f/1.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses.
“This shot turned out to be one of the best from the session, and is a mixture of both techniques,” says Kara of the photo below. “I’m far away with a long lens, and we actually just took a break to have mom adjust her daughter’s headpiece. But the child kept looking at me with such intense interest, so I snapped this shot. She wasn’t posing and it was completely spontaneous – just goes to show that you should always be looking.”
Prompt different poses with questions
Every pro portrait photographer knows that posing your subject simply doesn’t work. Kara has a few go-to shots that she likes to set up (for example, close-ups with the kids off-center, and a colorful background that’s slightly out of focus), but for the most part she likes to prompt kids with questions.
“The most interesting way to pose children is by giving them a scenario,” she says. “‘What face would you make if you just got the best present in the world?’ Fun little questions like that, where they hold the response, are always great character portraits.”
Allow a prop or two
Too many outfits or toys can make for a distracting session, but a favorite toy can help make kids feel more comfortable. Kara also encourages parents to let their kids pick out an outfit for the day.
“This little girls’ outfit was adorable, and worked perfectly in this daisy field at the zoo,” says Kara. “But most importantly this photo is 100% true to her personality.”
See more of Kara’s portrait work at http://kikicreates.photoshelter.com